DADDY DAY CARE

PG
Reviews

High-concept movies are usually those that can be summarized, a la TV Guide, in a single sentence, so perhaps Daddy Day Care deserves credit for getting it into three little words.

The operative word is "little." The title tells it all, and when you cast Eddie Murphy in that role, you know you've got the attention of the family trade who will have an almost hypocritically high tolerance for raunchy gags. Bathroom humor doesn't exactly abound, but it's certainly present and accounted for. The "money shot" in this department, which naturally made the previews, shows Murphy reacting in horror to the damage done by a young (dis)charge, while the shrieking Psycho strings of Bernard Herrmann play on.

Otherwise, he plays it pretty cool and collected and seems quite comfortable in the kid-comedy corner (far more than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Keaton, who preceded him as unlikely authority figures to the sub-teen set). Here, Murphy's an advertising "idea man" whose job hustling vegetable cereals to kids suddenly withers on the vine and dies. Doomed to humdrum house-husbandry, he decides to throw open the doors of his home to a horde of rampaging, undersupervised preschoolers, and the predictable games begin.

Regina King, an excellent actress wasted in the role of Murphy's wife, literally falls out of the picture when she picks up her legal briefcase and marches off to the marketplace. And Jeff Garlin falls in--with a thud. There is nothing he does here as Murphy's second-in-command that remotely suggests the strong comic rep he has earned on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." He just looks like a guy trying to find the end of the Fat Sidekick line.

But the always-good-for-a-laugh Steve Zahn is his usual wild-hare self as an office gofer who finds his true calling on the playground with the kids. Kevin Nealon makes himself suitably obnoxious, ragging Murphy and Garlin for losing their jobs, more than earning his comeuppance. And Anjelica Huston helps the picture over its most improbable passage, displaying class and claws as a rival daycare headmistress (a "Miss Harridan," if you get my drift) who goes to outrageously outlandish lengths to put Murphy's daycare out of business. Think of her as a flesh-toned facsimile of Huston's Morticia Addams.

--Harry Haun